Help With End-of-life Talks From a Prize-winning Writer

Posted on 03/22/2013

ReutersEllen Goodman spent decades talking with Americans through her Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper column about social change and the women’s movement. But when her mother became severely ill several years ago, it struck her there was one profoundly important conversation the two of them had never had.

“My mother was the kind of person who would talk about your problems until you were bored with them,” says Goodman.

“We talked about everything, except what she wanted at the end of her life. ‘If I’m ever like that, pull the plug,’ she would say. But at the end there was no plug to pull. She couldn’t decide what she wanted for lunch, let alone medical care.”

Goodman found herself faced with a cascading series of decisions for which she was unprepared.

“Should she have another bone marrow biopsy? A spinal tap? Pain treatment? I was blindsided, and I began to talk with others – and I found out I wasn’t the only one,” Goodman says.

The experience left her with the feeling that her mother’s death could have been much easier – for her mom and herself – if only they had had what Goodman calls “the conversation.” She retired her syndicated column and launched The Conversation Project, a non-profit dedicated to helping Americans have the difficult talks they need to have about their end-of-life wishes.

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